GALVESTON (KHOU & USA TODAY)— Researchers at The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston have been awarded two grants to developing drugs against both Ebola and Marburg viruses, the hospital announced Thursday.
Virologist Alex Bukreyev, professor of pathology at UTMB, has been awarded two National Institutes of Health grants and a U.S. Department of Defense grant totaling more than $6 million. The studies involve collaborations with the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
According to UTMB, Ebola and Marburg cause the most severe hemorrhagic fever known, with a mortality rate of up to 90 percent. There are currently no approved vaccines or treatments.
Another grant from the NIH will fund a project to investigate the mechanisms leading to immune system failure following filovirus infection. Bukreyev and UTMB professor Thomas Geisbert each will lead components of the project.
The USA will launch an early-stage trial in September of an experimental vaccine against Ebola, the deadly viral disease that has killed 729 people in the largest outbreak in history. It has infected more than 1,300 people in West Africa, including a number of health workers, according to the World Health Organization.
(KHOU)- The Ebola virus is one of the deadliest on the planet and the current outbreak is the worst the world has seen since the virus surfaced in the late 1970s.
Ebola causes organ failure and internal, as well as external bleeding. It is contracted by coming in contact with an infected person's bodily fluids.
So what is UTMB professor, Dr. Thomas Geisbert doing with the virus in his Galveston lab?
"We're really trying to improve the vaccines, improve the treatments and really kind of support the efforts in that manner," said Dr. Geisbert, a professor in UTMB's Department of Microbiology and Immunology.
His efforts to create an effective vaccine are funded by a $26 million NIH grant awarded collaboratively with Profectus Biosciences, Tekmira Pharmaceuticals and the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, is a very exclusive award for UTMB.
"We are the only academic university in the country right now that works with bio-safety level four pathogens," Dr. Geisbert said.
Security at the hospital is off the charts.
"It's kinda like a box within a box within a box," he said.
Ebola originated in West Africa and has a 90-percent death rate. A naturalized U.S. citizen working in Africa recently died from the virus. A doctor from Ft. Worth and a medical assistant in Liberia are currently fighting the virus there. Authorities say those U.S. connections have not endangered Americans.
However the CDC is urging medical personnel worldwide, especially those who visit West Africa, to be on alert.
U.S. health experts want awareness about the disease to spread, not fear of catching it. There has never been a case of Ebola in a developed country.
Even though Ebola is extremely deadly, it's also very fragile. Disinfectants, soaps and detergents kill it. Presently in a UTMB lab, a local doctor and his team are hoping to eliminate it from the Earth.